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Horrible Murder in Dexter, 1878

Recovered History: Installment 1

A lost and questionably reported account of a murder in Dexter, Washtenaw County, Michigan, bringing to focus post-Civil War racial relations in the “North.”

Horrible Murder

On Sunday, at about 11 a. m., Jan. 20, 1878, the little village of Dexter [Michigan] was thrown into terrible excitement, through a rumor that one Thomas O’Grady had been brutally murdered and mutilated by a colored man named W. H. Morand, in the timber about one mile below that place.

The rumor proved to be a sad truth, and not long after the body of the unfortunate man was brought to the village a coroner’s inquest was held, and the principal facts given are as follows: The man Morand had leased a little piece of land in Cullinane’s timber near Dexter, and had been living there for about two months. His hut was near the Michigan Central railroad track, and was made of saplings bent down and covered over with earth and brush.

The boys in Dexter had found out he lived there, and on Sundays used to go up and chat awhile with him. On the day in question, Thomas O’Grady, Steve Cavanaugh [app. age 8], Thomas McLaughlin, Dan Cunningham [app. age 10] and others–in all eight in number–had gone down from the village to see the man, and have a little fun with him. They arrived there, and commenced to fool around his humble abode, when he cautioned them to desist, but they still continued their sport, and one was so bold as to lay a large log against the door.

This made Morand mad and he came out of the hut and picking up an ax struck a blow at Cavanaugh, who was the one nearest. Cavanaugh warded off the blow, and at the same time O’Grady said, “Don’t be afraid, I’ll fix him,” or words to that effect, and pulling a revolver, fired in the air close to Morand’s head, simply to make him desist his murderous intentions.

This enraged Morand still more, and he struck again, this time at O’Grady, and felled him to the earth. The other boys were so paralyzed with horror, that they ran in all directions. O’Grady–though stunned by the blow–heard them and said, “For God’s sake, boys, don’t leave
me.”

O’Grady was then on his knees in a stooping position, and as soon as he had said this, the Negro struck him a second blow, which killed him instantly. With fiendish glee, he raised the bloody ax and dealt him two more blows, entirely mashing his skull, and mutilating his head in a fearful manner. He then took the dead body and carried it 10 or 15 feet and threw it over a fence into a ditch on the other side.

The alarm was given immediately by O’Grady’s companions, and his wife, being one of the first to hear of it, was soon on the spot, and found the Negro trying to bury the fatal weapon that had performed the bloody work.

Morand then walked toward the village, and meeting a couple of officers on the way, gave himself up. The officer, thinking that violence might be done him, took him to Ann Arbor the same evening.

On the Wednesday following the prosecuting attorney questioned him in the presence of witnesses, drawing out the fact that he believed himself to be the Savior, possessing unlimited knowledge of past, present, and future, and therefore declined to prosecute the case. Morand was afterward taken before a jury, judged insane, and sent to Kalamazoo [Michigan Asylum for the Insane].

The murdered man left a wife and a babe seven months old to mourn his sad and premature loss.”

Source: History of Washtenaw County. Chicago: Chas. C. Chapman & Co., 1881: 241-242.

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